Posted Feb 17, 2009 05:16 pm CST
A blogger calls a recent libel ruling by a federal appeals court “the most dangerous libel decision in decades.”
The Friday decision by the Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that a true statement can be subject to a libel suit if it was said with actual malice, according to blogger Robert Ambrogi writing at Media Law. Ambrogi says the decision calls into question the “bedrock principle of libel law … that truth is an absolute defense.”
The 1st Circuit ruled in a suit by a salesman at Staples who was told he was fired for padding his expense reports. He sued for libel after the company sent an e-mail to 1,500 employees saying the salesman was fired because he was not in compliance with the company’s travel and expense policies.
The court ignored 40 years of U.S. Supreme Court precedent set in New York Times v. Sullivan, which defined actual malice as requiring knowledge that a statement is false or a reckless disregard for its truth or falsity, Ambrogi says. Instead the court relies on a 1903 statute to define actual malice as “ill will.”
The 1st Circuit decision was issued on rehearing and essentially reversed its earlier ruling in the case.
“You need not be superstitious to appreciate the import of this Friday the 13th ruling,” Ambrogi said. “It is the most dangerous libel decision in decades. The decision puts a crack in the bedrock that threatens to undermine free speech.”
Hat tip to Universal Hub.